The seats of the school bus
were cold and clung to our static
ky winter clothes. In the back of a seat halfway down the aisle, someone had carved the word “dic
.” I giggled, not knowing what “dic
” meant, only that it was a swear word
, and it was misspelled.
The bus was full of kids I’d known for years: my cousins Andy and Luis
and their cousins Chuy
, Lidia, Norma
, and Susie
, all of whom lived on our grandparents’ farm; Maria
Berry, who lived at the final bus stop, far enough away
that she qualified for another school district; my sister
; her best friend Arika
, who lived in Philo
proper, in one of the row houses behind The (boarded-up) Final Resort Saloon
. This year, however, a new family had moved into the State Park that adjoined my family’s property. The father was the newest park ranger
, and the oldest daughter, Anna
, a highschool
er, fascinated me
Her hair was red and black
, cut into strange, chunky layers. She
wore long black flowing skirts, ripped long-sleeved tee shirts, heavy black eyeliner
. I watched as she leaned close into the bus window, breathing out deliberately, then brought up her index finger, drawing a careful anarchy
symbol on the fogged-up window
I couldn’t talk to Anna, even though I desperately wanted to. Instead I befriended her sister
, who was three years older than I, in the same class as my cousin John
. Rachel had extremely straight blond hair cut in a very fashionable diagonal bob
, longer on the left side. She was extremely thin
and, like her sister, dressed in all black
. Rachel was older, wiser, another older sister to me, inventing stories
to entertain me on the long bus rides.
“There once was an elf
“Okay, what is
Rachel sighed. “There once was an elf named Luke. Blue or green?
“All right, Luke was a blue
I felt relieved I had guess
After school, Rachel boarded the bus with the upper-graders. I was already on the bus, saving half my seat for her. I was her bus friend; she would’ve been lonely without me. Her parents were hippies, and she wasn’t like the other kids who rode my bus. Our dads farmed or logged the forests, and some of them spoke with southern accents, even though they had lived in the valley their whole lives.
“Hi.” Rachel dropped her backpack from her right shoulder and sat beside me.
“Guess what! The chicks hatched and we voted on names and I said ‘Rachel’ and it won!”
Our class had an incubator that winter. We were learning about the life cycle, following along in our science book what was happening beneath the egg shells. Only ten of the eggs hatched. We cracked an unhatched egg to see where the chick had stopped growing; it had almost grown full-sized and its feathers were sticky and sparse.
“Oh?” She kicked her backpack under the seat.
I waited. “Yeah, I said that it was after you, name the chicken after you.” I felt victorious. I wanted Rachel to know that it wasn’t just me who liked her; Mr. Mendosa’s whole class voted for her.
She looked at me. “Thanks?”
“You’re welcome.” I wanted her to feel pleased and popular and loved. Special.
“Rachel, are you gonna tell us what happened to Luke?” Maria leaned forward between me and Rachel as the bus lurched forward.
Bill’s voice crackled over the bus loudspeaker: “No changing seats while the bus is moving!”
“Luke?” Rachel looked confused. “Oh, the elf? Yeah, just. Let me think a minute.” The story was mine. I dropped my lunchbox under the seat and slid closer to her. I wanted to but didn’t touch her.
We sat in silence. I pretended to look out the window, instead watching Rachel in the reflection of the glass. “Are you done thinking?”
“I mean, thinking what happened to the elf after he escaped the dungeon?”
She sounded a little tired. “I’ll tell you later, okay?”
“Oh. All right.” I looked out the window for real this time. The scenery went by so slowly, not like in the back of the car. It went faster if you looked out the side windows than if you looked out the front. The hills and the sides of the road were green. The trees were dark and bare.
“I could tell you a different story.”
I turned to her, excitedly. “Yeah.”
“Once there was a girl who lived with her parents and her dog in a big house in the woods.”
I immediately pictured the dark wood walls of my home. My family had two cats, no dogs, but I pictured my cousins’ dog, Duke, a tall mutt who was part German Shepherd.
“The girl’s parents went on a trip without her. They left the dog at home to protect her. They told her that if she got scared at night, she could reach out her hand and the dog would lick it.”
Something in Rachel’s voice made my legs feel like they were falling asleep. The bus was just outside of Philo now. There were only a few more stops ‘til my house. I felt a creeping fear.
“That night, she got into bed and went to sleep, but she woke up in the middle of the night. She heard a sound: ‘drip… drip… drip…’”
I knew this sound; my bedroom was across the hall from the bathroom. I imagined myself in my bed, a dog by my side, the house empty, the dripping tap echoing in the dark. I wanted Rachel to stop the story, but I felt desperate, too, to hear the ending.
“She felt scared, so she put out her hand for her dog to lick. She felt him lick her palm, so she went back to sleep.”
My stomach was sick. The bus stopped at Jack’s Valley Store.
“She woke up again. ‘Drip… drip… drip…’”
We passed the feed store my fathers’ cousins owned.
“She put her hand out again, and the dog licked her hand.”
The bus stopped at the fruit stand. My cousins got off and lit across the highway into the parking lot.
“When she woke up in the morning, she called out for the dog, but he didn’t come. Then she heard the dripping sound again. ‘Drip… drip… drip…’”
The bus crossed the farm, passed the horse pasture, the orchard beside the packing shed.
“She ran to the bathroom and threw back the shower curtain.”
The bus rounded the corner by my grandparents’ house. I could see my house at the top of the next hill. I felt my heart beating in my chest.
“There was her dog, hung up in the shower, bleeding. ‘Drip… drip… drip…’”
The bus stopped, and I pushed past Rachel.
“And on the mirror behind her, written in blood, it said ‘People can lick too!’”
I felt a flash of cold shock go through me, numbing my body as I stepped from the bus onto the driveway. Climbing the hill, I was pale and shaky. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay,” I repeated to myself, emptily.
The rest of the afternoon, I was a ghost. Sitting on the couch with the TV on: “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.”
I was not okay.
In bed that night, there wasn’t a sound of any kind. The nightlight dimly lit the edge of my room. My father, my sisters, my brother, all asleep. I lay on my back, staring at the redwood knots on the ceiling, holding my body perfectly still. There was no dog. No dripping water. No one had left me alone.
I knew, though, that the killer would find me.
from The Book of Revelation
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